Do You Have Lupus or Know Someone Who Does?
If you have a condition called lupus (short for systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE, this report may be of interest to you. For the first time in over 50 years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given the nod for a new drug to treat this condition.
Lupus is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disorder that can affect just the skin (face, neck, scalp) or target organs and any system in the body. Autoimmune means that the immune system mistakenly attacks body parts in an effort to get rid of them. Why a person's immune system sees your own body as foreign or something to attack remains a mystery.
According to the Lupus Foundation of America about 1.5 million Americans have some form of lupus. Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) rarely develops in older people. It is primarily a disease of young women in their childbearing years. Men and children can develop lupus but this happens much less often than in women.
Lupus (SLE) is three times more common in African American women than in Caucasian women and is also more common in women of Hispanic, Asian, and Native American descent. It is believed that both genetic and environmental factors play a role in the development of the disease.
Other risk factors include physical or mental stress, which can provoke neuroendocrine changes affecting immune cell function; streptococcal or viral infections; exposure to sunlight or ultraviolet light, which can cause inflammation and tissue damage; immunization; pregnancy; and abnormal estrogen metabolism.
The main immunologic disturbance in SLE is something called auto-antibody production. The body produces antibodies against its own cells and antigens.
In fact, one significant feature of SLE is the ability to produce antibodies against many different tissue components. Almost any organ or tissue in the body including blood cells can be targeted.
Symptoms vary depending on the body part, cells, or systems affected. There can be a skin rash, severe joint pain, extreme fatigue, inflammation of blood vessels, and hair loss. Headaches, irritability, and depression signal autoantibodies reacting with the nervous system.
Some patients report problems with shortness of breath, seizures, strokes, and/or difficulty with memory. Anemia, hepatitis, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain are among the many other symptoms possible.
The standard means of treatment has been with corticosteroids (antiinflammatory drugs) and medications that suppress the overactive immune system. Drugs to treat malaria have also been helpful. But now with the introduction ofBenlysta (belimumab), patients have a new treatment option.
The drug is administered intravenously (through a vein) once a month. It is designed to target B-lymphocyte stimulator protein. The goal is to reduce the number of abnormal B-cells. The effect is to turn down the immune system response.
Benlysta is the first drug to be developed specifically to treat lupus. It is considered safe, effective, and provides tolerable treatments. Not everyone can benefit from this drug and there are some potential side effects.
In drug trials before Benlysta was approved for public use, only one in three patients experienced relief from their symptoms. Because Benlysta weakens the immune system, patients taking the drug are at an increased risk for infections, cancers, depression, and suicide. The drug was not specifically studied in African-Americans, the group affected by lupus most often.
The drug may allow patients to reduce the amount of corticosteroids they are currently using to manage the inflammatory symptoms of lupus. And that's important because these drugs can do more organ damage over the long term than the disease itself.
Lupus sufferers may find Benlysta helpful in reducing flare-ups, providing less fatigue, and resuming a more normal lifestyle. Patients who have had success using this drug for their lupus say their quality of life is much improved. With no cure for lupus and treatment only able to target the symptoms, Benlysta may give some patients a new lease on life.
First New Lupus Drug Approved in More Than a Half-Century. In The Journal of Musculoskeletal Medicine. April 2011. Vol. 28. No. 4. Pp. 150.